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Presidential Blog

Development of waste management from yesterday’s best practices to today’s least favorable practices (General International Overview)

Waste management as everything has developed over the years in various countries through various methods. Accordingly, the development of waste management will be addressed to reflect how certain best practices gradually shift over the years to become less favorable practices.

Historically, prior the industrial boost which resulted in the development of urban lifestyle that enhanced the packaging, and WEEE, most waste products were either degradable (food), environmental friendly (glass, pottery, ….), or reusable/repairable (copper ware, wood ware, ….). Post the industrial boost, waste management evolved to become a pressure point on various communities.

Internationally, the first reaction to waste management was to compile waste in a site (dumpsite) away for populated areas and occasionally burn them to control the volume. This was the most advanced technology in the early half of the 20th century to avoid accumulation of waste in the streets and inhabited areas. However, this practice soon was proven to cause serious pollution to ground water and resulted in airborne emissions that spread and reached inhabited areas. Accordingly, the dumpsite waste management practice was upgraded to sanitary landfilling. As per dumpsites, sanitary landfills, operated in a similar manner but with containment measures, and advanced control. Hence, the site dedicated for waste disposal was isolated with impermeable liners, equipped with drainage and leachate collection and treatment systems, equipped with emission control and treatment systems, and the waste was compacted in layers and covered with soil. Thus, the landfills became the best practice, due to its waste management containment measures which protects the environment and reduces the health implications on humans from waste management. On the other hand, with time, sanitary landfills soon proved to be an abusive practice that depletes/consumes vast areas of land in an incremental manner. Accordingly, in the second half of the 20th century, an alternative, environmentally technology that would address the incremental consumption of land was needed, in addition to the need to valorize and capitalize on the calorific value of waste. Hence, incinerators started to evolve as the trend and best applied technology in the market to treat solid waste. On the other hand the incinerators, faced several challenges, many of which they overcame (management and treatment of bottom and fly ash, management and treatment of emissions, efficiency, etc…). Nevertheless, some of the issues that kept holding incineration back was its excessive consumption of waste resources, and the energy aspect as it was proven that recycling products saves on energy consumption to produce new ones. Therefore, mechanical sorting followed by sorting at source became the trend and best practice, to capitalize on material recovery, while incineration was utilized for the remaining waste components. Thereafter, the international solid waste hierarchy evolved to emphasize on reduction of waste production, reuse of products, recycling, then treatment as top priorities, thereafter followed by capitalizing on the energy aspect through incineration and co-incineration, and finally using sanitary landfills as the least favorable resort in waste management.

Hence, international waste management best practices have shifted from dumpsites, to sanitary landfills, to incineration, to treatment, to recovery, to reduction, and thereafter resulted in banning of dumpsites, implementing pressure points on limiting and reduction of sanitary landfills, and finally reaching circular economy. Accordingly, Eurostat 2016 data indicate that many EU countries witnessed dual increase in material recovery and incineration rates to attain low landfilling targets. Now circular economy targets in some interpretations poses a serious pressure on incineration and landfilling practices. Therefore, the nations that strategized on capitalizing on waste to energy and incineration schemes to attain previous targets related to low landfilling practices, may be facing today serious challenges in attaining the new circular economy targets.

In conclusion, best practices in solid waste management have been so far transitional best practices. New and continuously evolving solid waste strategies, and targets seem to regularly impose drastic changes in such practices. Accordingly, the only constant approach over the past years and that may still be valid for up-coming years, is to focus on Reduction of waste generation, Reuse of material, and capitalize on and valorize material.

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